Editor's note: The following essay was reprinted in Resource Library on January 16, 2009 with permission of the Great Plains Art Museum. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, or wish to obtain a copy of the exhibition catalogue from which it is excerpted, please contact the Great Plains Art Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:


Early Nebraska Women Artists, 1880-1950

By Sharon L. Kennedy


Early Nebraska women artists played key roles in the development and enrichment of the cultural environment of the state. Through involvement with local artist guilds and development of sketch clubs, they encouraged participation in the arts within their communities. By establishing art organizations, they helped to develop art collections and host exhibitions that included notable artists from the East Coast. Under their leadership as art instructors and administrators, the art department became a viable, independent entity of higher education in Nebraska. In addition to exhibiting their works in museums, salons, expositions, and world fairs, they accepted national and international commissions and participated in the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP, part of the Works Progress Administration, or WPA) of the 1930s.

This exhibition focuses on the lives of twelve women artists who practiced in Nebraska from 1880 to 1950. Organized by chronological order of birth date, it begins with Sarah Moore, born in 1846, and concludes with Myra Biggerstaff, born in 1905.

Many Nebraska women practicing art came to Nebraska from prestigious art schools such as the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, the Julian Academy in Paris, the Art Students League of New York, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Art Institute of Chicago. They sought out and studied under instructors such as William Merritt Chase (1849- 1916), Cecilia Beaux (1855- 1942), Birger Sandzen (1871 - 1954), and Hans Hofmann (1880- 1966), whose influences can often be seen in their work.

The dominant style, especially among the earliest women artists working in the nineteenth century, was realistic portraiture through painted or sculpted imagery. As women gained more rights and independence a more individualized and varied style emerged through landscape and genre painting. Ranging from impressionism and regionalism to cubism and geometric forms, a freedom of expression becomes more apparent in later artists' works.

The opening of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln in 1871, the Peru State Normal School in 1895, the Nebraska Normal School at Kearney in 1905, the Nebraska State Normal School in Chadron in 1910, and later the University of Omaha, offered opportunities for women to instruct and practice art in institutions of higher education. The fact that women took advantage of these openings is demonstrated by the predominance of women in the art department in Lincoln for many of its early years.[1]


Artists as Teachers

Sarah Wool Moore (1846-?), Cora Parker (1859-1944), and Sarah Sewell Hayden (1862-1939)

One of the earliest and most significant contributors to the art community in Nebraska was Sarah Wool Moore, who came to the University of Nebraska in 1884 as a graduate of Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and was a student of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. She taught painting and drawing and later became an instructor of art history and head of the art department. Her accomplishments indicate a strong determination to create an art culture in a town where previously very little existed.

Moore's commitment to the university and the community is evident in the numerous letters she wrote to the regents of the University of Nebraska. One such letter proposed that the course fees be kept low so as to induce an interest in "real art culture which must always be created" in communities. At the same time she suggested that the university assume the risk and make the teacher stipend "a respectable sum" in order to recruit and maintain a staff of qualified educators.[2]

Moore's success can be seen in the increase of students admitted into her classes. One year after the department of art was formed, 46 students were enrolled. Her class size grew to 115 by the year 1889, and in 1892, 147 students signed up for her painting and drawing courses.

In 1888 Moore organized the Haydon Art Club, which would later become the Nebraska Art Association, the support organization for the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. The Sheldon owns one of the few works by Moore entitled Portrait of a Girl. This and a Charles H. Gere portrait (at the Nebraska State Historical Society) are the only two works of art by Moore that are known to exist in Nebraska.

In 1892 Moore resigned from the university.[3] What became of her after she left is uncertain. An 1893 publication, titled A Woman of the Century, credits Moore with much of the "quickening and development of artistic taste in Nebraska." It states that she left for rest and special study.[4]

In 1893 Cora Parker replaced Sarah Moore as head of the teaching staff at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Her qualifications included a degree from the Cincinnati Art School and the Julian Academy in Paris with tutelage from William Merritt Chase. Parker painted Roses in 1899 using a technique much like Chase's, in which focused brushstrokes create a softened, painterly impression and mood. Unlike Moore's calculated approach to painting, Parker's representation reflects more of a personal style. Rendering of the work, perhaps because of the quickened appearance of the brushstrokes, gives an impression of spontaneity rather than precision.

During Parker's tenure, it appears the university experienced financial difficulties and the viability of the department of fine art within the university was tenuous. Because the university was supposedly unable to pay her salary, Parker was paid by the Haydon Art Club members until 1899.[5]

Parker abruptly resigned in 1899 in order to save her reputation, stating in her letter to Chancellor MacLean that if the regents were to drop the art department it would place her in an "unjust light" should a public announcement be made before she had resigned."[6] Parker returned to the East Coast and worked for the Bruce Art Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Apparently, she enjoyed success in her art career while in Greenwich. In a letter to researcher Clarissa Bucklin, she stated that she worked in the museum for the months of May through November and spent the rest of the year in the south -- Bermuda, Florida, and California -- painting and exhibiting.[7]

Replacing Cora Parker in 1899 was Sarah Sewell Hayden, a talented silver medal recipient from the Art Institute of Chicago. Born in Chicago on February 8,1862, Hayden studied under William Merritt Chase and Frank Duvenek. In 1896 she went abroad spending two winters in Paris where her work was accepted at the Paris Salon. She taught art at several institutions, traveled to Belgium, Holland, England, and Italy, and exhibited widely in the United States, including New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and St. Louis, before coming to Nebraska.

In 1905 Hayden requested a one-year leave of absence from the university to accept an invitation from William Merritt Chase to attend a landscape painting class in Spain. The trip would also include studying from living models as well as from the masterpieces of the Prado Museum.[8]

Hayden painted Girl in Green, now housed at the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, while living in Lincoln. Her model was a student, Creta Warner Filley, from Roca, Nebraska. However, the figure in the painting is sitting with her body turned away from the viewer so only a small portion of her profile is revealed, leaving her identity hidden. The influence of the Chase school can be seen in the painting's romantic qualities, in the dark background, and in Hayden's visible brushstrokes. These and the light source reflecting on the sitter's skin lend a striking contrast to the rich textural qualities of the green dress. Atmosphere is given more emphasis in both Hayden's and Parker's work compared to works by Moore.

Hayden served the university for seventeen years until she resigned in 1916 at the age of sixty. She returned to her old address in Chicago where she died in 1939.


Elizabeth Tuttle Holsman (1873-1956)

Painter and sculptor Elizabeth Tuttle Holsman was born on September 25, 1873 in Brownville, Nebraska. Holsman continued her higher education with the University of Nebraska, obtaining her degree in 1893 and joining the art faculty at age twenty. She taught the year Sarah Moore left and then moved to Chicago to attend the Art Institute.

A member of the Chicago Society of Artists, the Chicago Art Club, and the Chicago Gallery Association, Holsman traveled extensively for subject matter and study. On a trip to the Orient she seriously studied and collected Japanese prints. She also traveled to Europe, northern California, the Yellowstone National Park area, and on a project funded by the Audubon Society, painted birds of the Florida Everglades.

In 1916 Holsman was awarded the silver medal for a painting called Still Waters in the Artists of the Northwest exhibition of the St. Paul Institute, shown in Omaha, Nebraska. Works such as this and A Drowsy Day, 1915 (ILL. 2), a similar work, are impressionistic in their subject matter and use of color and light. With a palette of greens, blues, violets, and yellows, Holsman's use of color makes A Drowsy Day an appealing work with a strong sense of freshness and vibrancy.

Between 1898 and 1937 Holsman exhibited her work at the Art Institute of Chicago fifteen times. Of these, at least eleven were bas-relief or sculpture in cement, plaster or terra cotta.[9] In 1917, she was commissioned to sculpt a bronze bas-relief of Dr. C. E. Bessey for Bessey Hall, and in 1932 she created a bas-relief memorial for Dean Mandha B. Reese in Reese Hall. These were successful commissions and Holsman was praised for the "sincere sympathy and careful craftsmanship" that resonate in her sculpture.[10]

Although Holsman spent most her adult life in Chicago, she made an impact on Nebraska through her teaching and her art. Her relief sculptures remain in prominent locations in two University of Nebraska buildings and she is represented in the permanent collections of the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, the Joslyn Art Museum, and the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney, Nebraska.


Alice Righter Edmiston (1874-1964)

Another student of Moore's who came back to teach at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln was Alice Righter Edmiston. Born in Monroe, Wisconsin, on April 6, 1874, Edmiston moved with her family to Lincoln when she was four years old. She attended the university but, like many before her, went to the Art Institute of Chicago to continue her studies.

After one year in Chicago she moved to New York City and enrolled at the Art Students League. One of her instructors, Frank Vincent DuMond, arranged a summer trip to Paris and Edmiston took advantage of the opportunity. She stayed for an additional nine months, living in the Latin Quarter and visiting Paris studios.[11]

After returning to the states, Edmiston turned to the career path that many other women artists took, namely teaching art at the university level. In 1895-1896 she taught one year each at the University of Nebraska, Southwest Virginia Institute in Bristol, Virginia, and Galloway College in Searchy, Arkansas. It appears she remained an active artist during these years because she was included in the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha in 1898.

Edmiston became actively involved in art organizations, including the newly developed Nebraska Art Association (formerly the Haydon Art Club). In 1902 she was included in the first Nebraska Art Association exhibit in which local artists were involved. When the Lincoln Artists Guild was formed in 1920, she became president and continued her membership throughout her life.

Even though Edmiston lived in Lincoln and was active in the community, she was also able to travel and spent several spring and summer months in other parts of the country, painting different sites on the east coast and in the South and Southwest. Besides landscapes, cityscapes, and historic sites, she painted florals and genre scenes. She was also interested in keeping up with new developments in art, working with cubist techniques and even experimenting in abstraction. An example of her innovative spirit can be seen in Provincetown Church, ca. 1927 (ILL. 3). The artist combined simplified shapes with unusual colors and varying textures to create a rural street scene with depth and substance.

In 1923, Edmiston won a $100 prize for her work in the Society of Fine Arts exhibit in Omaha. Then in 1934, she was included in the Joslyn Art Museum's Five States Exhibit and repeated the honor again in 1936, 1937, 1938, 1940, and 1941. She was given a one-person show at the Joslyn Art Museum in 1944 that focused on her monotypes. She had works purchased for the Vanderpoel Collection in Chicago and her art is included in the permanent collection of the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney. Edmiston died on March 29, 1964 at the age of 89.


Angel DeCora Dietz (1871-1919)

Angel DeCora (Hinook-Mah wi-Kilina ka, meaning Woman Coming On the Cloud in Glory) was born on the Winnebago Reservation in what is today Thurston County, Nebraska, to important tribal members of French and American Indian descent. In a brief autobiography, she described the constant training and consultation she received as a child. "Under the influence of such precepts and customs, I acquired the general bearing of a well-counseled Indian child.[12] She attended the reservation school but her life was destined to change.

DeCora's autobiography describes the day a man took her away to the white man's school on a "steam car," resulting in an extremely difficult separation between her and her parents.[13]

DeCora was enrolled in the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute near Norfolk, Virginia. After four years she returned to the reservation to find that most of her family had died. With her position in the tribe in jeopardy, and with little to do for her people, she was allowed to return to Hampton where she graduated in 1891.[14] She went to Drexel Institute in Philadelphia to study illustration with famed illustrator and teacher Howard Pyle (1853-1911) from 1896 to 1899. Because of improvements in printing processes and the wide use of newspapers and magazines as forms of entertainment, illustrators were in high demand. To support herself as an artist, this option must have had appeal to DeCora.

She got her break when two of her illustrated stories, The Sick Child and Grey Wolf's Daughter, were accepted in the 1899 issues of Harper's Weekly. With these commissions and an established studio on 62 Rutland Square in Boston, DeCora's fame was being established.

Conflict between theories of art for art's sake and commercial art may have led DeCora to resume her formal education at the Crowles Art School in Boston and then the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. From Boston, she moved to New York City in 1902 to pursue an independent career in art.

Throughout her years as a burgeoning artist, she remained loyal to her Native American heritage. These efforts did not go unnoticed by the federal government and in 1906 DeCora was asked to take a leading position in the art program at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. It appears she was reluctant to accept and only agreed after expressing that she "not be expected to teach in the white man's ways" but in "the art of my own race."[15] At Carlisle, DeCora made great strides in restoring a sense of ancestral pride and personal esteem through the arts. Her activism on the part of the American Indian in art evolved into a concern for the general livelihood of Native Americans. She joined the Society of American Indians in 1911 and lobbied for improved conditions on the reservations.

Due to a career change and subsequent move by her husband, William Dietz, DeCora resigned from Carlisle in 1914. Together they moved to Pullman, Washington. Four years later DeCora returned to the East after obtaining a divorce. A short time later she contracted pneumonia and influenza and died on February 6, 1919.

When Howard Pyle was asked if he had any genius students in his years of teaching, it was DeCora that he spoke of when he said, "Yes, once. But unfortunately she was a woman, and still more unfortunately, an American Indian."[16]

Despite the limited number of works in existence today, DeCora was honored by having two works of art selected for the Paris Salon in 1910. Today, her artwork and archives can be found in the collection of Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia.


Elizabeth Honor Dolan (1871-1948)

Elizabeth Honor Dolan was one of six children born to Irish immigrants in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in 1871. According to archival records, she matriculated at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln on November 3, 1899.[17] Her instructor, Sarah Hayden, had also arrived at the university in 1899.

After graduation from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1914, she enrolled in a three-year program at the Art Students League in New York City. She remained in New York for approximately eight years, exhibiting with galleries and supporting herself by painting landscapes, miniatures and portraits and designing stained-glass windows for Louis Tiffany. Her work would return to New York years later as part of the 1939 World's Fair exhibition.

After New York, she moved to France where she received a $500 private scholarship to the American School of Art at Fontainebleau. In 1925 she exhibited at the Paris Salon.

On a return trip to Nebraska from France, Dolan learned of plans for a new state museum of natural history, to be named after former university regent C. H. Morrill of Stromsburg, Nebraska. In 1927 she signed a contract with the director of the museum, Dr. E. H. Barbour, offering her $100 per week to paint murals for the newly mounted exhibits. This fifteen-month project drew much attention to Dolan and secured her reputation as a muralist.

Dolan was also commissioned to paint a mural titled Spirit of the Prairie in the law library of the newly constructed State Capitol building in Lincoln in 1930. Other commissions in Lincoln included ten murals for the Miller and Paine department store, one mural each for the Unitarian Church (then located on Twelfth and H Streets), the University Club, the women's lounge in the Nebraska Union on the university campus, and Bennett Martin Library, and ten murals for the Masonic Temple, the YWCA of Lincoln, Bancroft School, and numerous private homes.

A twenty-four-piece, one-woman show was organized at the Joslyn Art Museum in August 1937.

Dolan was also given support from a local art collector, Frank M. Hall, who commissioned her to paint scenes of the family garden. When both Halls died in 1928, they willed their entire collection and much of their fortune to the University of Nebraska. Included were several works by Dolan, notably The Hall Garden, Eleven a.m.; The Hall Garden at Four p.m.; and Sunshine.

With the many commissions she received and the recognition they afforded, it is not surprising that Dolan could support herself through her art. Even with her numerous assignments, she lived very modestly, renting a small studio above what was then the Oliver Theater near Thirteenth and 0 Streets. Dolan died in 1948 at the age of seventy-seven.


Marion W. Canfield Smith (1873-1970)

Kearney Normal School, now called University of Nebraska at Kearney, became the home of artist Marion W. Canfield Smith for thirty-eight years. Founder of the art department, Smith was described by a student as a kind, sympathetic, dedicated, and witty person.[18]

Smith attended Emporia State Teacher's College, University of Nebraska in Lincoln, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago. She taught at Lincoln High School for several years, and then in 1901, she traveled to the University of Chile at Santiago, where she studied and taught for the next three years. Even after joining the Kearney Normal School, Smith continued to study art in Minneapolis, Chicago, Woodstock, New York, and again at the Pennsylvania Academy.

Living on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota for several summers in the early 1900s and her interest in the Pine Ridge Reservation led Smith to paint important portraits of Native American people. Smith is also noted for her impressionistic landscape paintings that characterize the midwestern world through intense color and texture. In A Corn Field, painted around 1920, the foreground is almost completely abstract, consisting of color and texture that allude to grass and pumpkins but give the appearance of being out-of-focus.

Smith retired from Kearney State College in 1943 at the age of seventy. It is uncertain where much of her work resides but one source believes it rests in private hands because she traded art to pay for her living expenses during the last years of her long life.[19] She died at age ninety-seven.


Alice Cleaver (1878-1944)

Another artist who could have supported herself through her art had she continued in her pursuit was Alice Cleaver. In 1913 and 1914 Cleaver was exhibiting her art and establishing a career in Paris when World War I broke out, forcing an early return to her hometown of Falls City, Nebraska.

While Cleaver attended the University of Nebraska from 1892 to 1895 to study music, she also participated in art classes with Cora Parker. After Nebraska, Cleaver studied on a scholarship at the Art Institute of Chicago and graduated with honors in 1904. From Chicago, Cleaver went to the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts for three years where she studied with William Merritt Chase and Cecilia Beaux.

It was either during or shortly after her stay in Philadelphia (1907) that she traveled on two occasions to Isleta, New Mexico, to paint the everyday life of Pueblo Indians for the Santa Fe Railway. One large painting that was purchased hangs in the El Tovar Hotel at the Grand Canyon.[20]

Cleaver completed her art training with a sojourn to Paris in 1913. It was in Europe that she departed from portraiture and took up landscape, genre scenes, and still lifes. Influences of impressionism can be seen in her brushwork, but her paintings remain dark in color with the exception of The Blanhisseuse (The Ironing Girl). In this genre painting scene, a young woman irons near a window that illuminates the painting, providing a high contrast between light and dark. This work and another oil painting were exhibited in an exclusive women's show in Paris. Two oil paintings and one pastel were also included in a group exhibition of "The Nine Painters" that opened in the Latin Quarter in June 1914, the same year the war forced Cleaver to return to America.

It was in Chicago that Cleaver met the poet and art student Nicholas Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931). He lived and studied art in Philadelphia and New York at the same time as Cleaver. When Cleaver moved back to Falls City during World War I, Lindsay had attempted to stay in contact with her but residents believe Cleaver's mother, Rosa, intercepted the letters. After the last family member died and the house was sold, a box of unopened letters was found, including some from Lindsay."[21]


Gladys M. Lux (1899-Present)

Born on a farm near Chapman, Nebraska, Gladys M. Lux turned 100 years old on January 24, 1999. She attended the University of Nebraska, receiving her bachelor of arts degree. After two years of teaching art in Sioux City, Iowa, Lux moved back to Lincoln in 1927 to accept a position at Nebraska Wesleyan University. During her teaching career, she pursued her bachelor of fine arts degree and her masters' degree in art and art history. From 1927 to 1929, she attended summer sessions in postgraduate studies at the Art Institute of Chicago.

In the midst of her graduate studies in 1933, Lux applied for support from the Public Works of Art Project. Acceptance meant subsidies from the government which was encouraging support for any artist. But after about six months Lux was dropped from the program in favor of an artist with a greater need, and she never received payment for her works.

In addition to her work at Wesleyan, Lux taught summer school in 1934 at Chadron State College in western Nebraska. This gave her the opportunity to paint in different parts of the state and in neighboring states. Even so, Lux felt no need to leave Nebraska. She said, "Nebraska is full of pain and grief," and in order to fully understand the beauty of Nebraska, one must also understand its hardships. The painting Good Faith, c. 1938, for example, depicts a farmer plowing the field during the Dust Bowl era. The land and the lone tree in the image look barren and dry, yet the farmer continues his monotonous routine. Lux stated, "[A] farmer does not give up even though he has to farm in the sand,"[22] Despite the odds, the farmer portrays optimism in his determination to continue. Light on the horizon line also symbolizes hope for a new day.

It was those sentiments conveyed by her images that earned Lux entry into the 1939 World's Fair in New York City, the Six States show in Omaha, and the following year, a one person show at the Joslyn Art Museum. Other exhibitions took place in locations such as Kansas, Missouri, Chicago, Texas, and New York.

During most of her forty-year tenure at Nebraska Wesleyan University, Lux was head of the art department. For many of those years she was the only member of the art faculty. She started the Little Gallery on the campus and organized exhibits such as senior exhibitions, Nebraska teacher shows, and even elementary school traveling exhibitions. She held office and remained active in the Lincoln Artists Guild, organizing their first exhibition in 1937.

In addition to teaching and creating art, Lux began early in her career to collect art such as prints, dolls, paperweights, quilts, and lace.

Lux also loved buildings. She has owned and rented property in Lincoln for many years. In 1985 she bought the former University Place City Hall in northeast Lincoln and donated it to the Lincoln Foundation. The building was then renovated and became the University Place Art Center.

Lux's more recent awards include a Governor's Arts Award in 1979, a Mayor's Arts Award in 1986, and the Distinguished Service Award from the Nebraska Retired Teachers Association in 1980.


Katherine (Kady) Burnap Faulkner (1901-1977)

Katherine (Kady) Burnap Faulkner has been praised by several of her former students as an exceptional teacher with a serious, no-nonsense approach and an unending devotion to the arts. Born on June 23, 1901 and raised in Syracuse, New York, she received her bachelor of arts degree in 1925 from Syracuse University and then attended the Art Students League for two years before arriving at the University of Nebraska art department. Here, she earned credit hours while teaching and eventually obtained her master of fine arts degree from Syracuse University through summer course work.

During her twenty-year tenure at the University of Nebraska, she traveled to New York City, probably during the summer months of 1933, where she studied under Hans Hofmann (1880-1966). Other instructors included Boardman Robinson (1876-1952) and Henry Varnum Poor (1887-1970).

Unlike some of the women artists that preceded her, teaching art at the university was more than just a livelihood for Faulkner. She was quoted as saying that an art instructor's teaching should come before "his own creative work."[23] Despite this philosophy, she pursued her art, continued to undergo art training and obtained membership in art organizations and affiliations. Between 1936 and 1940, she exhibited in more than fifty shows. She was a member of the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors, the Northwest Print Makers group, the Lincoln Artists Guild, and she was elected to Delta Phi Delta, an honorary art organization, in 1946. Her style while in Nebraska was of a realistic type of genre painting. However, later she experimented with geometric forms and produced many prints.

Utilizing a regionalist formula and combining it with her distinct sense of color and texture, Faulkner painted Nebraska Farm (ILL. 1) in 1936. One's eye travel up the curving tractor tracks to the central focus of a farm, the red barn. Rolling hills, billowy clouds and tufts of white representing chickens soften the hard-edge farm buildings to evoke a peaceful place on the prairie.

In the late 1930s Faulkner was selected by the Treasury Department's Section of Painting and Sculpture in Washington (WPA) to paint a mural for the newly built post office in Valentine, Nebraska. In 1939 Faulkner finished End of the Trail, an oil-on-plaster depiction of a train depot with goods arriving for the early settlers of the West. Faulkner's art also exists in the collections of the Pennsylvania Art Museum, Brigham Young University, University of Colorado, the Atlanta Museum of Art, the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, and the Great Plains Art Collection in Lincoln.

Kady Faulkner and instructor and artist Dwight Kirsch, who directed the University of Nebraska galleries, were principally instrumental in developing the art department and its relationship between the school and the Nebraska Art Association. Their enthusiasm and high expectations trickled down to their students.

After leaving Nebraska in 1950, Faulkner settled in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and acted as head of the art department at an Episcopalian boarding school for girls called Kemper Hall until her retirement in 1972. Faulkner had a dream to develop an art center for the community of Kenosha. Upon her death she was named honorary member of the Kenosha Art Association. A scholarship was established by the Greater Kenosha Arts Council, and later the Kemper Art Center was established.


Myra Biggerstaff (1905-1999)

Myra Biggerstaff pursued her love of art at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas, in 1929, headed by Dr. Birger Sandzen, a well-known oil painter, etcher, and watercolorist. She received her bachelor of fine arts degree in 1932. Accompanied by Sandzen's daughter Margaret, she then made a one-year sojourn to Paris.

From Paris, she traveled to Sweden. Living in Uppsala, Biggerstaff organized a joint exhibition of Birger Sandzen's graphic works with her own watercolors at the Uppsala University gallery. She moved to Stockholm in 1934 and attended the Swedish Royal Academy's graphic arts school on a full scholarship.

In 1950, armed with exhibition savvy and teaching experience, Biggerstaff took the leap and moved to New York City. She painted twenty-nine portraits in her first year.[24] After pursuing a master's of fine arts degree at Columbia University, she worked hard at painting, competing, exhibiting, and selling her art.

The Studio, Late Afternoon portrays a style that can be seen in much of Biggerstaff's work. Long lines and shadows cast by the late afternoon sun combine to form a multitude of geometric shapes that make up the studio and give it spatial dimensions.

Biggerstaff began teaching at the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1960. Nine years later, the institute gave her a solo exhibition. As associate professor and later departmental chair, she remained at the Fashion Institute until retirement in 1972.

By actively entering her work in national and international competitive exhibitions, she reaped many awards. These included the Bainbridge Award in Watercolor for the National Association of Women Artists, Audubon Artist's cash awards at the National Academy Galleries in New York City, and a distinguished Prix De Paris award.

Until her death in 1999, Myra Biggerstaff continued to exhibit, donate, and talk to anyone who would listen to her about art. She told a reporter of the Auburn newspaper in 1995 that "painting is my first love."[25]

In addition to bibliographical information on early Nebraska women artists, this catalog demonstrates the evolution of freedom of expression from the earliest artists practicing in the late 1800s to those practicing in the mid-1900s. From Sarah Moore, who was limited to commissioned portraiture, to Myra Biggerstaff, who experimented in abstraction and numerous mediums, one hopes the road became easier with the passage of time.

The earliest artists discussed here -- Sarah Moore, Cora Parker, and Sarah Hayden -- came to the University of Nebraska to supplement their art careers through teaching. The ground was broken and the way was paved because of these courageous women. Today, women artists are making similar choices and similar sacrifices, but progress continues to be made.



[1] Clarissa Bucklin, Nebraska Art and Artists (Lincoln: School of Fine Arts, University of Nebraska, 1932), p. 23.

[2] Sarah Wool Moore to University of Nebraska Regents, June 17, 1886, Archives and Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries.

[3] Ibid., June 1892.

[4] Frances E. Willard and Mary A. Livermore, A Woman of the Century. (Buffalo, N.Y.: Charles Wells Moulton, 1893), p. 517.

[5]. Fred N. Wells, The Nebraska Art Association: A History 1888-1971. (n.p., n.d.) pp. 6-7.

[6] Cora Parker to Chancellor MacLean, April 27, 1899, Archives and Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries

[7] Cora Parker to Clarissa Bucklin, July 17 (year unknown), Archives, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery.

[8] Sarah Hayden to the Chancellor and Board of Regents, April 8, 1905, Archives and Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries.

[9] Letter and attachment from Suzette Flood, Art Institute of Chicago, to Penelope Smith, Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebr., April 3, 1986, Archives, Joslyn Art Museum.

[10] Lana M. McCauley, "Laudatory Criticism," Chicago Evening Post, August 23, 1921.

[11] Robert Houston, "A Lively Artist at Age 82," Omaha World-Herald, January 6, 1957, 9G.

[12] Angel DeCora, "Angel DeCora: An Autobiography," The Redman, 3, (March 1911): 279.

[13] Ibid., p. 280.

[14] Quilter, Sarah McAnulty. "Angel DeCora Dietz," in Perspectives: Women in Nebraska History, ed. Susan Pierce. Lincoln: Nebraska State Council for the Social Studies/Nebraska Department of Education, 1984, p. 100.

[15] Ibid.,p.103.

[16] Bucklin, Nebraska Art and Artists (note 1 above), p. 18.

[17] University of Nebraska Matriculation Records, Archives and Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries.

[18] Margaret King Garvin, letter in artist file, 1922, Museum of Nebraska Art, Kearney, Nebr.

[19] AskArt.com-Biography for the artist Marion Canfield Smith, retrieved May 25, 2000.

[20] "Artist from Falls City Won National Acclaim," Omaha World Herald, 28 December 1975, 1H.

[21] Letter from Gary Zaruba, Kearney State College, to Robert Haller, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, April II, 1986, Archives, Museum of Nebraska Art, Kearney, Nebr.

[22] Peterson, Glenda, "University Place gift caps 40-year Wesleyan Career," Sunday Lincoln Journal Star Focus, March 17, 1985, 1H.

[23] "U.N. Teacher Explains Move," Omaha World-Herald, July 3,1950.

[24] Darrell Wellman, "Myra Biggerstaff's Love of Art Still Strong as the Years Go By," Auburn (Nebr.) Press-Tribune, September 12, 1995, 8.

[25] Ibid.


About the author

Sharon Kennedy is the interim curator at the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. She also directs the Statewide Arts Connection project and oversees the Sheldon Statewide traveling art program for the museum.

Sharon earned a Master of Arts Degree from UNL in Museum Studies, with an emphasis in Art History. Her thesis topic was Early Nebraska Women Artists 1880-1950. She later curated an exhibition with the same title, has given lectures on the subject and is currently publishing an article for the Nebraska History Magazine.

Other professional positions held include Education Coordinator at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Curator for the Great Plains Art Collection, and Assistant Director at the Haydon Art Gallery in Lincoln. In 2003 Sharon received the Museum Educator of the Year award from the Nebraska Art Teacher's Association.

Sharon has taught classes at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Wesleyan University. These include museum studies, art methods and art history classes.

Sharon collects art and visits museums and galleries at every opportunity.


Resource Library editor's note

The above exhibition catalogue text was reprinted in Resource Library on January 16, 2009, with permission of the Great Plains Art Museum. The permission was granted to TFAO on January 12, 2009. Ms. Kennedy's essay pertains to Early Nebraska Women Artists 1880-1950, which was on view at the Great Plains Art Museum at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Nebraska from September 14 - December 30, 2001.

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Amber Mohr, Curator of the Great Plains Art Museum, and Stacey Wittig for their help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text.


Also see a Nebraska State Historical Society article titled "Early Nebraska Women Artists, 1880-1950" by Sharon L.Kennedy from their Fall 2007 issue of Nebraska History, pages 62-95.

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